Far from Hobbiton, past Rivendell and beyond the Misty Mountains, the company of thirteen marches on towards the Lonely Mountain. But first they must conquer the terrors of Mirkwood, escape the influence of the Elf King and triumph at Lake Town before ever reaching the wasteland that marks The Desolation of Smaug…
Almost a decade after the end of the blockbuster Lord of the Rings saga, writer/director Peter Jackson returned to the Tolkien fold with 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The first in a massive three part retelling of the English author’s 1937 novel, the film went on to make more than $1 billion at the box office, and set the world up for three years of wild fantasy at movie theatres.
An Unexpected Journey was all about the setup, getting the pieces in motion towards their task and introducing the new characters to this world. Desolation promises to up the action, drama and excitement to even greater heights.
For fans of the books, they’ll get to see wildly imaginative takes on some of the most enduring fantasy creations of the last 100 years. Like shape-shifter Beorn (played byMikael Persbrandt) who welcomes the company, begrudgingly, into his home or the horrors of Mirkwood, bound to cause some problems for arachnophobes in the audience. Or the iconic moment where the dwarves escape down a river loaded into barrels.
And that last sequence should hold surprises for both fans and newcomers alike, as Peter Jackson and his crew of talented creative have expanded on the original version to create a rollicking action scene which sees the dwarves fighting off enemies in a careening roller coaster ride.
It’s just one of many additions to the story, where the writers have dived into J.R.R. Tolkien’s extensive appendices and the further stories of The Silmarillion to bring even more depth and character to this take on the world. It’s a vital move to fill three lengthy movies with content, and also bring this earlier story more into line with that told in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series.
And it’s actually very much in keeping with Tolkein’s style, as lead actor Richard Armitage notes: “I think Tolkien himself was a bit of an extended edition kind of guy because he wrote The Hobbit and then in a way The Lord of the Rings kind of becomes an extended edition of that. He obviously created Middle Earth and then became more fascinated with it and wrote more. So he gave the whole place an evolution and genesis. It’s like Peter doing the same thing, it’s him picking up the book in the same way storytellers tell a tale slightly differently each time.”
For cinemagoers, that means even more action than what you’ll find in the book, as well as the addition of entirely new characters like Tauriel (an elven warrior played by Evangeline Lilly) and the return of more familiar faces – including Orlando Bloom as a much younger Legolas.
Both of these characters have an important connection to another significantly expanded player, Thranduil. In fact, even the name is new material, as Tolkien only ever identified him as the Elvenking in his first book. Delving into the appendices earned him a moniker as well as setting him up as the father of Legolas’ character and someone who has a complicated history with Thorin Oakenshield.
Eagle eyed viewers will already have caught a glimpse of Thranduil, the powerful Elf who rode by on a massive elk steed and refused aid to the dwarves fleeing the shattered Erebor at the start of the film. It was an important moment for actor Lee Pace, though he also sees the funny side of the brief appearance: “He has a much bigger presence in this movie. But the stuff in that first movie I’ve tried to keep it very detailed and I’m looking at those dwarves and that pile of treasure they’ve accumulated and I know that there’s something bad coming. Yea I know it’s a very funny moment, I’m in it for like 20 frames [laughs]!
But that early moment looms large in the history of this version of Middle Earth, setting up an antagonism between Thorin and Thranduil which helps to shape the entire story, alongside the quest for the ultimate prize – the Arkenstone.
These elements add some new darker depths to the character of Thorin, though for actor Armitage, it all stars from a noble place: “The early drive in him was to achieve what his father failed to achieve, to take his people back to their homeland. And then the next level of that is that there’s this huge pile of gold. That’s part of taking the people back to their homeland. Then it becomes much more singular. So he sort of starts on quite a wide path and then it becomes incredibly narrow minded. And it becomes about greed and personal greed so that was us giving him a kind of journey arc.”
And for Thorin, Thranduil is not only someone who betrayed his people decades before, he’s also one who is still stopping him from completing his goal. Their hatred is long-lasting and complex. “It means that the antagonism isn’t just inherited, that they’re just racist towards elves. It becomes very personal – when they were in great need the elves turned away. So that kind of deeply embedded antagonism is part of the character and you see it come out in movie two, they go head to head!”
Pace’s view is a good deal more philosophical, at least when he’s not in character. “I look at the refugee populations in the world right now and it’s shocking and moving to see a story about displaced people and this king who is determined to not just save the people but the culture, the heritage. So the scenes I love most are when the dwarves are sitting around the table in Bilbo’s house singing. That’s what that become about. It’s not just the gold. That’s me as an audience member and a big fan of these movies speaking, not the Elven King. Because he’s not the biggest fan of the dwarves! [laughs]”
This battle between Thorin and Thranduil adds greater weight to the tale of The Hobbit, lying alongside the work of Gandalf to combat the growing power of the Necromancer and the continuing chase given by the white Orc Azog. And through it all, a hobbit called Bilbo and his new prize of a ring of power inches towards his goal – a meeting with the great and terrible worm himself, Smaug.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is in cinemas, in IMAX, 3D and HFR, from the 13th of December 2013
For more from Lee Pace and Richard Armitage, head to our content hub.